Needles Highway, a great road to drive in South Dakota.

Needles Highway
Needles Highway

Needles Highway, part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, is a beautiful road with breathtaking vistas located in the center of the Black Hills in Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA. The Needles Highway is part of the South Dakota Toll Road 87. Because of the steep granite peaks, this section of the route is known as the Needles Highway.

Also, one of the most known attraction on the road is the Needles Eye Tunnel.

There are tons of granite needles, abrupt twists, and low rock tunnels along its 22 kilometers length (14-mile) length. Rapid City is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) away, and Mount Rushmore is only 35 minutes away. One of the nicest roads to explore near Mount Rushmore is this one obviously.

Where is the Needles Highway located?

The Needles Highway runs from Sylvan Lake to Legion Lake, State Game Lodge, or Center Lake, and is full of excitement and breathtaking scenery no matter which way you go.

You can locate the Needles Highway on the map below:

Enlarge the map

Facts about the Needles Highway:

It is 22 kilometers (14 miles) long, with many twists and turns and narrow tunnels dug into the granite, and was designed as a picturesque route with scenic viewpoints. It is bordered by granite peaks.

The roadway was completed in 1922, despite the fact that it had been predicted that it would be difficult to build. Former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck marked the entire route on foot and by horseback.

As well, there are a few lakes in the area, including an artificial dam lake.

Going early in the morning is the key to enjoying this drive. Take it easy on yourself. The journey will take between 45 and 60 minutes. Pullovers for pictures and general awe are common. Please allow enough time to travel at a safe speed when making plans. When driving the Needles Highway, you won’t want to be in a hurry.

Needle’s Eye Tunnel

South Dakota Highway 87 passes through Needle’s Eye, a tunnel blasted through steep granite walls. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway runs through this area. It is certainly the narrowest tunnel on the road. This one-way tunnel is only  8′ 4″ wide by 12′ 0″ high (2.5 meter wide).

The route is completely paved. Many travelers flock to the small, winding route and tunnel. With its characteristic “eye” sculpted by countless years of rain, ice, and wind, Needle’s Eye is one of the most memorable granite spires on the road. Motorhomes and cars towing heavy trailers should avoid the Needles Highway. This is the most well-known of the three tunnels found on the Needles Highway.

Needles Eye Tunnel
Needles Eye Tunnel

Why is it called Needles Highway?

In fact, the name of the road originates from the needle-like granite outcrops that appear to puncture the horizon as you drive down it. Former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck meticulously planned the route, which he marked on foot and by horseback. The building was constructed in 1922.

It runs through Custer State Park and is 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Rapid City. It was finished in 1922 under Governor Peter Norbeck, a staunch promoter of the park.

After merging with South Dakota Highway 89, it passes under Hood Tunnel and provides access to Lake Sylvan before merging with US Highway 1. South of Hill City is Route 16.

A video of the journey

You can have a preview of that drive. Indeed, you just have to watch this YouTube video as it shows a part of the road:

Is the Needles Highway open?

Custer State Park and Needles Highway, which are located on the boundary of Custer and Pennington counties, charge indeed an admission fee.

In the winter, the authorities close the Needles Highway due to snow. It is usually open for driving from early April until mid-October, but it might close at any moment if the road is not clear of snow.

Detractors say it’s impossible to build, but you’ll want to stop and take pictures along the route. It’s been an incredible journey. Remember to bring your camera. If you’re in the area, especially in the fall, we highly recommend it. Rapid City is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) away, and Mount Rushmore is only 35 minutes away.

Picture credit: Sharon Mollerus on / By Little Mountain 5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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